Raccoons and relatives

(Procyonidae)

Class Mammalia Order Carnivora Family Procyonidae

Thumbnail description

Medium-sized carnivores with dexterous digits and long tails, most with dark bands

Size

Body 1.0-2.5 ft (30-70 cm); tail 0.8-2.0 ft (20-70 cm); mass 2-40 lb (0.8-18 kg)

Number of genera, species

7 genera; 16 species

Habitat

Forests, farmland, and cities Conservation status

Endangered: 5 species and 1 subspecies; Lower Risk/Near Threatened: 3 species; Data Deficient: 1 species

Distribution

South and Central America, North America, and Asia

Distribution

South and Central America, North America, and Asia

Evolution and systematics

Procyonids evolved in the tropical environments of South and Central America. Their morphology and habits reveal numerous adaptations for warm climates including naked soles, long digits, diet relying heavily on fruits and berries, and tree climbing skills. Several aspects of their phylogeny (origin) remain unresolved. First, the position of the red panda, Ailurus fulgens, with the Procyonidae (but the giant panda Ailuropoda melanoleuca in the Ursidae) is not universally accepted. In the past, the red panda has been considered under a separate family Ailuridae with the giant panda. Second, the number of species of raccoons (genus Procyon) seems to vary as many previously recognized island species such as Bahaman raccoon (Procyon maynardi), Guadeloupe raccoon (Procyon minor), and the extinct Barbados raccoon (Procyon gloveralleni) have recently been reconsidered variants of the northern raccoon (Procyon lotor). Similarly, five species of olingos (genus Bas-saricyon) are currently recognized, but are probably variants (subspecies) of the same species.

Physical characteristics

Procyonidae have a rounded head and ears, short snouts (genus Potos) or long snouts (generas Nasua and Procyon), most have long banded tails except kinkajous (Potosflavus), which have unbanded tails. Pelage varies from pale brown in Bassariscus to dark red in Ailurus, and is variable from yellowish to silver, brown, or even black in some color morphs of Procyon lotor. Facial markings often occur, and are most pronounced in raccoons and red pandas, yet absent in kinkajous. Limbs have five digits, with short, recurved claws. Mass ranges from 2 lbs (1 kg) in Bassariscus to close to 40 lbs (18 kg) in Procyon lotor. Males are slightly larger than females, and have a baculum (penis).

Distribution

Procyonids (except the red panda) occur throughout Central American and the northern half of South America, but the northern raccoon occurs in North America, and now in Germany following introductions. Red pandas occur in the

Northern raccoons (Procyon lotor) in their tree den. (Photo by Leonard Lee Rue III. Bruce Coleman, Inc. Reproduced by permission.)
The ringtail (Bassariscus astutus) is a nocturnal hunter. (Photo by Bob & Clara Calhoun. Bruce Coleman, Inc. Reproduced by permission.)

temperate forests of the Himalayas from Nepal through to provinces of Sichuan and Yunnan in China.

Habitat

Procyonidae are extremely adaptable and occur in all habitats except possibly desertic habitats. Most species probably occur in tropical forests except for the northern raccoon that inhabits farmland, mixed forests and urban areas throughout the United States and Canada. Red pandas inhabit bamboo forests of Asia.

Behavior

With the exception of the coatis, the procyonids are nocturnal species. All species are capable climbers. Some species

A white-nosed coati (Nasua narica) searching for grubs. (Photo by James H. Charmichael. Bruce Coleman, Inc. Reproduced by permission.)
Kinkajou Eat Fruit
Kinkajous (Potos flavus) eat mostly fruit. (Photo by Tom Brakefield/ OKAPIA/Photo Researchers, Inc. Reproduced by permission.)

such as Bassariscus are solitary, others such as Procyon have variable degrees of sociality, and Nasua is highly gregarious. Solitary species such as Bassariscus or Nasua do not defend territories, but home ranges typically overlap more inter-sexually than intra-sexually. Only red pandas are truly territorial. Some species such as Potos flavus and Ailurus fulgens scent mark.

Feeding ecology and diet

Procyonidae are omnivorous. Some specialization occurs from the ring-tailed cats (mostly carnivores) to kinkajous (frugivore) or red pandas (mostly herbivore), but all species consume plant or animal matter, depending on season or availability.

Reproductive biology

Most species are promiscuous and breed in the spring or throughout the year in southern latitudes. Females bear young once a year after a gestation period of 60-118 days. Males do not provide care for the young.

Conservation status

Twelve species plus one subspecies are listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. However, listing of two raccoons as Endangered (Procyon minor, Procyon maynardi) and one as Extinct (Procyon gloveralleni) may be invalid as they are forms of the northern raccoon. Among extant species, five are Endangered (Ailurus fulgens, Procyon pygmaeus, Procyon insu-laris, Bassaricyon lasius, and Bassaricyon pauli), three are listed as Near Threatened (Bassaricyon beddardi, Bassaricyon gabbii, and Bassariscus sumichrasti), and one species as Data Deficient (Nasuella olivacea). The red panda is currently endangered be-

Nasuella Olivacea

The red panda (Ailurus fulgens) lives in the mountain forests of Bhutan, India, and China. (Photo by Harald Schütz. Reproduced by permission.)

cause of deforestation, killing for its pelt, illegal trade of live animals, and predation by domestic dogs. Estimates suggest that less than 2,500 animals remain. One species of raccoon,

The olingo (Bassaricyon gabbii) is mostly aboreal. (Photo by Art Wolfe/ Photo Researchers, Inc. Reproduced by permission.)

The red panda (Ailurus fulgens) lives in the mountain forests of Bhutan, India, and China. (Photo by Harald Schütz. Reproduced by permission.)

cause of deforestation, killing for its pelt, illegal trade of live animals, and predation by domestic dogs. Estimates suggest that less than 2,500 animals remain. One species of raccoon,

Raccoon Eating Humans
A northern raccoon (Procyon lotor) eats a crayfish. (Photo by Joe McDonald. Bruce Coleman, Inc. Reproduced by permission.)

The olingo (Bassaricyon gabbii) is mostly aboreal. (Photo by Art Wolfe/ Photo Researchers, Inc. Reproduced by permission.)

the Cozumel Island raccoon (Procyon pygmaeus) is threatened by urbanization and persecution as pests by orchard owners.

Significance to humans

Procyonids are hunted for their meat and fur, or killed as pests. The northern raccoon has the greatest importance to humans, either as a furbearer, for meat, as a carrier of rabies, or as a pest. Other procyonids such as coatis or kinkajous may also be harvested for their meat or fur, although none to the extent of the northern raccoon.

Bassariscus Astutus

1. Ringtail (Bassariscus astutus); 2. Kinkajou (Potos flavus); 3. Red panda (Ailurus fulgens); 4. White-nosed coati (Nasua narica); 5. Northern raccoon (Procyon lotor). (Illustration by Brian Cressman)

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